Nearly everyone who watches TV is familiar with the "Most Interesting Man in the World" commercials from Dos Equis beer. For nearly a decade, these commercials have opened with witty lines about the man's good looks, charm, and all around appeal and have ended with the line, "Stay thirsty, my friends."
Until a few months ago, the Most Interesting Man in the World (it feels like that deserves capitalized letters) was Jonathan Goldsmith, aged 77. In March, Dos Equis sent him on a one-way trip to Mars. Dos Equis denied that Mr. Goldsmith "aged out" of the role, but the company spokesperson admitted that the change was made in an effort to attract younger beer drinkers.
In the past few weeks, Dos Equis announced that it has decided to replace Mr. Goldsmith with 41-year-old French actor Augustin Legrand.
Does Mr. Goldsmith have a case?
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA") prohibits discrimination against employees who are over 40 years old and work for employers with 20 or more employees. Several years ago, the Supreme Court upped the ante on what a plaintiff has to show to establish age discrimination, meaning that an employee must show that age was the reason for the adverse employment action (here, the trip to Mars), and not just one of several factors behind the employer's decision.
Despite the fact that these cases are more challenging to prove than other types of discrimination cases, employers are still not allowed to favor younger workers over older ones. An individual claiming age discrimination must show that he's over 40, that he has suffered an adverse employment action, that he was qualified for his job, and that he was replaced by a substantially younger employee. Mr. Goldsmith can check all those boxes, meaning that the burden of proof shifts to Dos Equis to produce a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for Mr. Goldsmith's trip to Mars. The company has failed to do so.
When asked why Mr. Goldsmith was being forced out, Dos Equis' spokesperson stated:
Mr. Katz added that the meaning of the word “interesting” has “obviously evolved over time” and that millennials in particular “value different things” than other generations. To underscore that, Dos Equis said it had conducted a survey in February of about 1,000 men ages 21 to 35, in which 84 percent of respondents said that “what is interesting today is different from what was interesting a decade ago.”
Read the full article here. (Notably, Dos Equis not only discriminates against its older workers, but also apparently focuses its research only on male beer drinkers.) If Mr. Goldsmith were interested in pursuing an age discrimination claim, there's a strong chance a jury would find that Dos Equis discriminated against him on the basis of his age.
Stay thirsty, I guess.